November 13th, 2020
Project data integration and project performance management have been likely bedfellows for many years. I have been involved in many system implementations as a user, implementor and consultant in the past 20 years and the only one I can clearly remember failing was the one where integration was kept to minimum.
The need for an integrated system to support the management and delivery of complex portfolios, programs and projects is unquestionable. Projects delivered using siloed and disconnected processes and tools are twice as likely to fail than those with fully integrated systems. Lower success rates are also seen by projects being managed using spreadsheet-based tools which are almost impossible to standardize on and come with well-documented inefficiencies and errors.
The degree to which you can take advantage of the productivity gains, data confidence and role satisfaction afforded with integration depends upon the integration maturity of an organization, the value they place on the benefits associated with it and how much they are willing to invest and commit to developing the most efficient solution possible.
A typical enterprise project performance solution requires integration with project scheduling systems to track progress, update forecasts and measure against KPIs. They also include integration with ERP systems for code of accounts, budget, committed and actual costs. More advanced solutions include integrations with other sources of progress information such as 3D modelling software and engineering tools and other integrations with information management systems and BI platforms.
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The Five Levels of Project Data Integration
There are five levels of Integration maturity from 0 to 4. Fewer projects are being managed in line with Level 0 characteristics but there are still not enough projects being delivered at Level 4 or even a combination of Level 3 and Level 4. It is at the combined 3 and 4 level of maturity most companies should be aiming for. So, what are the five levels?
Level 0 – Manual Entry
While seldom seen when managing complex programs and projects the use of manual double entry can still be found within smaller organizations. The advantages of no solution development, no implementation and support costs along with no need for internal investment however are easily outweighed by the labor intensity and inefficiencies associated with this approach. This approach is also prone to errors which in some cases can lead to an even higher cost and detrimental business impact.
Level 1 – Manual Export / Import
The use of spreadsheet imports does remove the need for manual data entry and provides a cost effective solution which includes some degree of data definition and data mapping but this is still a level of maturity most organizations need, and in some cases must, go beyond. The manual extraction, manipulation and importing data still relies heavily on human interventions which are prone to delays and data not being processed correctly. A key element missing is automated data validation. While errors can be reduced with data mapping the risk of human error is still high
Level 2 – Automated Data Exchange
Extract, Transform and Load (ETL) solutions have been used for years to support data integration. There are obvious advantages to this approach such as programmatic and scheduled exchange of data, accurate and error free transfer of data, minimal human intervention. These solutions, however, are not cheap. They require the involvement of, often expensive, design and development resources over significant periods of time. Ongoing support and maintenance costs also need to be considered especially considering how often organizations modify or upgrade their internal tools and processes.
Level 3 – No Code Automated Data Exchange
Changes in process and systems often leads to modifications to existing data integrations. Modifying, testing, and deploying solutions built using traditional ETL methods can be difficult, costly, and time-consuming. Using an integration platform, or middleware, that supports configuration rather than coding for maintenance and updates provides the flexibility and built-in data control needed to manage changes with speed and ease. While there can still be limitations due to lack of programming ability and time and cost related to updating and maintaining this type of solution the efficiencies and long-term benefits are undisputable.
EcoSys Connect – No Code Integration Platform
Level 4 – Native Integration
The best solution for integrating data and process is “no integration” – meaning a solution that manages processes such as portfolio management, resource management, funding, project controls and construction management within the same platform. Not only does this offers significant benefits by eliminating the cost, effort and risks of moving data, but also offers a singular user experience for everyone involved. Finding and implementing a solution capable of supporting and meeting the requirements of all stakeholders is difficult and requires a depth and breadth not often found. Organizations should always aim to use the best solutions possible and this may not be possible if you try and keep within a single solution.
Which Level of Project Data Integration is Best?
So, what is the ideal solution? In reality it is impossible, and in some case, incorrect to manage all integrations with native integration. The complexity of projects and the processes often needed to manage them demand the use of external systems that offer capability beyond what is possible within a single all-singing / all-dancing solution. That is why we see many organizations adopting methodologies at both Level 3 and Level 4 maturity levels. Maximizing native integration wherever possible but leveraging, and integrating with, other solutions where necessary.
As we continue to enhance our integration capabilities and push boundaries with solutions and options such as EcoSys Connect and Live Connectors we look forward to delivering the most efficient, flexible, and cost-effective solutions for our customers.